If you have read any of my recent blogs, you may have noticed the following quote from Lao Tsu, an ancient Chinese philosopher: “to be loved deeply gives you strength, to love deeply gives you courage.”
The wisdom of those words explain much about behaviors I observed and attempted to treat as a psychiatrist. Feeling unloved was indeed a common complaint and the cause of a great deal of pain and misery. Without the experience of feeling loved one is weakened, and thus may lack courage to face even the ordinary demands of life. This may progress to a conviction that one is not only unloved but unlovable, resulting in self-loathing, depression, thoughts of harming oneself, and according to Anthony Storr, may generate violent aggression which he says is: “a complex mask for a repressed longing for love.”
WHY DO THEY DO IT?
There seems little doubt that we are now in the midst of an era of increased incidence of depression and unsanctioned violent aggression. Mass murders by otherwise ordinary people of all ages are now occurring at a level never before seen in the U.S. Most perpetrators have a history of relative anonymity. Neighbors usually describe them as quiet and unassuming, a person to whom they would speak to in passing but never engage in conversation. Acquaintances when found describe their relationship as superficial, and express profound surprise that the person was capable of violence. There is little evidence of any closeness let alone intimacy in their lives. Could such horrible deeds be as Storr said: a result of anger over the lack of love in their life?
THE THIRD MOST COMMON CAUSE OF DEATH
There has been an alarming increase in the number of kids diagnosed with clinical depression which is not limited to those who are disadvantaged or abused. A recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 years resulted in shocking statistics. They report 4600 lives lost each year by suicide (most experts feel the actual number is higher due to a tendency for many to go unreported), and that rate has nearly tripled since 1940. Emergency rooms throughout the country report 157,000 young people treated for self-inflicted injuries each year. In their Nationwide survey of high school students, the CDC reported 13% admitted to seriously considering suicide, and 8% actually made an attempt to take their own life. The report goes on to list a number of risk factors however; at a time in their lives when they are dependent on others to establish an identity and self-worth, it seems to me that relationships deserve to be at the top of the list. Indeed, many teen-age suicides do implicate such problems as precipitating factors.
MORE OF THE SAME, ONLY WORSE
Rollo May in his 1960’s book LOVE AND WILL, says “Our culture pushes people toward becoming more detached and mechanical,” but that observation doesn’t come close to what we see now that the digital age has enveloped us. The addiction of our children to cell phones and other electronic gadgets contributes to their alienation. Consolidation of schools and overcrowded classrooms have made it easier for kids to fall through the cracks. Social media has become a convenient vehicle through which kids can be disparaged or bullied. They are often attacked where they are most vulnerable i.e. their lovability consequently; the common theme “no one likes you” can be devastating to developing minds. Now we hear there has been a dramatic increase in suicides in recent years among not only teenagers but pre-teens. Although there is no proof of a link to feeling unloved, logic suggests there often is.
DON’T CARE? SURE YOU DO
There is ample evidence that we are herd animals, consequently; it is not surprising that I spent many hundreds of hours listening to patients with relationship problems, for when people are so very important in our lives, dysfunction can present problems. Although we often attempt to comfort ourselves by professing to not care what others think, in truth we usually do care more than we would admit. During all those years I spent in the shrink business I must have seen hundreds of people who were contemplating suicide or had actually made serious attempts. Although there are obviously many factors that may lead one to seriously consider killing oneself, I recall often hearing: “Nobody cares.”
DO WE KNOW WHAT IT IS?
It would indeed be presumptuous of me to attempt to explain what love is all about. It has certainly been a popular topic for poets, philosophers, musicians, theologians, and artists, through the ages. The stories of wonder, ecstasy, and tragedy associated with love resonate in pop culture to this day. There have been myths, and legends and attempts to define love by categorizing it (erotic, agape, filial, spiritual, etc.), but the force responsible for this peculiar phenomenon remains a mystery to me. My favorite definition of the term is from psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan, as follows:
The validity of such explanations is confirmed by the intense love relationships experienced by warriors throughout the ages. The myriads of reports of heroic efforts put forth by battle hardened veterans to protect their comrades, even risking or forfeiting their lives in the process gives credence to Sullivan’s ideas. Indeed, when questioned as to why those who would in other situations have been considered unlikely heroes are questioned about their behavior, they will acknowledge that it had nothing to do with military or political beliefs, or patriotic fervor, but rather their devotion to their buddies (“No greater love hath man……”). That phenomenon has not been lost on those charged with training the military, consequently; camaraderie is encouraged and interpersonal dependency guarantees bonding. One cannot wonder as to the part that the loss of relationships, solidified by the heat of battle, factor in the alarming rate of depression and suicide among our veterans. Many report they worry about their comrades who are still fighting which may also account fir the significant number who volunteer for additional tours of duty with their old outfits in spite of the known horrors they will likely confront.
WORTH THE TROUBLE?
Obviously, love has been a major contributor to the success of the human race. Humans isolated from their kind rarely survive. Sullivan posits that love is caring for others as for oneself and the old Chinese dude says as a result of love for each other, man gained the strength and courage to take on woolly mammoths and those guys in the next village who were trying to muscle in on their territory. It is the latter part of that statement that has caused a lot of problems. We seem to know a great deal as to the effects of love, but little about from whence it comes. The neuro-physiologists and brain mappers continue to look for specific love loci, and geneticists will likely say that it is in our DNA, but I doubt that CRISPR will ever be able to install a love gene. It would be great if such could be done, for we currently have little treatment for those who seem incapable of love, i.e. psychopaths.
I KNOW IT WHEN I FEEL IT
It may be that love is like the dark matter of our universe in that we know it exists and feel its effects even though we are unable to see, hear, smell or touch it. Could it be that love is simply a product of evolution? If so, how could we have survived long enough for natural selection to kick in? The creationists insist that God snapped his fingers and we instantly appeared on the scene fully equipped. Atheists on the other hand think the whole thing was an accident. Others see love as spiritually endowed. There are 4300 religions in the world with Christianity leading the pack and Muslims close behind.
WHAT ABOUT RELIGION?
Since I have been reared as a WASP, I have very little understanding of the other religions of the world or in particular where they stand on the love thing, but am pleased that love is at the core of Christianity. When it comes to Biblical scholarship, I am a dunce, but I do find inspiration in those first few pages of Corinthians which are all about love. The first 2 of the 10 commandments are also about love, and love is said to be the greatest of all, never fails, and is even better than faith or hope. There is also that thing about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek, but most of all were the teachings of Christ who was all about love. Of course, many see an inconsistency in a loving God who lets crappy things happen in spite of being all-powerful. Since Christians are people it is not surprising to find they have found ways to subvert the love philosophy, and resort to violence with all sorts of rationalizations.
Loving others as much as oneself is a great idea, but very difficult to implement on a grand scale. Excessive cheek turning is guaranteed to result in a lot of broken jaws. Nevertheless, there have been many attempts to use love as a mechanism to provide peace and tranquility, which has been met with success in some instances. In a rare instance of wisdom, our government eschewed the policy of gathering the spoils of war after WWII. Instead they initiated a policy aiding even our enemies to rebuild their virtually destroyed countries which lead to their becoming our closest allies. Of course, I was also around during the “love ins” of the sixties. Although they seemed to have emphasized the erotic rather than agape version of love, they did call attention to long neglected human rights issues and war mongering. There was also Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King who both emphasized reconciliation and learning to love each other.
We certainly could use more love in this world, but the chances of EVERYONE following the Golden Rule seem to be unrealistic. Nevertheless, when I look back on our history it seems there has been some progress in the love department with more emphasis on inclusivity and acceptance. Although it may seem that love is in short supply, it is alive in well and we can only hope the day will come when The Golden Rule is ever present. Even as millions of our fellow humans face horrors each day, there are millions of people who devote their lives to helping others individually and through organizations, which gives credence to the dictum that love never fails.
Corinthians 13:4-8 gives tells us everything we need to know: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…”